I have Cyber-Friends.Cyber-friendships. ‘Puter-Pals.
What I mean by this is that I have friends, or people who I consider friends, who exist for me only in cyber-space. Well, that’s not exactly true…they exist , they are not figments of my imagination, but while I have never actually met them, I KNOW them.
My first cyber-friendships began when Tom died. I couldn’t sleep and so I began scouring the internet for help…any kind of help. I found it too. I found a few sites that were for people who were grieving, and they had chat boards. I learned to navigate the boards and “talk” with other widows I met on there. There were a few of us that became close as we found that all of our husbands died within a few months of each other. There was Sue and Tina, Becky and Linda and April, Ruth and Anna. There were a few more, but these were the ones I talked with the most. As the years have passed we have all left the grief sites, but become Facebook friends, such an easy way to stay in touch.
These women saved my life early on in my grief. We supported each other, and Anna, in particular, was a huge support. She was a Sufi, and shared her faith with us. She would dress in colorful clothes and beads and dance and sing ecstatically in Sufi practice. I loved hearing about her beliefs, and one thing that particularly resonated for me was the practice of making an “ancestor table” for the person who died. The easy way to describe it is a shrine, with pictures and candles and stuff that represented the dead person…memories. I made one for Tom and it was healing to make it and to keep it. I would lie in bed some nights with candles lit and just be with Tom in that way we do when someone has died. The practice of building and keeping it was very healing. (This ancestor table figures into another cyber-friendship later.)
Anna was diagnosed with ovarian cancer several years ago, fought hard and was declared cancer free. But, but…it came back. She called me (we talked occasionally) and told me that she was going to be the first “see her love again”, and I knew what she meant. Anna decided to go right into hospice, she had no taste for fighting again, and she was prepared to “pass on”, which she did about 4 months later. I was sad, but I was also very happy for her. She fully believed she would awaken in the arms of her beloved Ishaaq, and I want to believe that is exactly what happened.
The other women and I still are FB friends. I almost met Ruth a few weeks ago, but the timing was wrong. And I have met Linda as she travelled through California. April is homesteading on land back east with a new love and a new baby; Tina is fighting her own health problems, Becky and Sue are just keeping on. We have a bond that exists, really, and I am grateful for it.
My next group of friends are “the Steeples”, a motley group of artistic types who all met in a chat room on the website of the artist/storyteller Brian Andreas. I had loved Brian’s work for a long time, his Story People line is lovely, and Tom and I had bought a few prints at a gallery in Cambria on trips there. After Tom died I realized how many of Brian’s stories spoke to me about grief and love, and on a trip back to Cambria I went a little crazy with the print (picture me sitting on the floor in a gallery, sobbing….oh those poor people!) but, whatever. One day I found his website and started exploring and found that there was a chat room.. There were some lovely folks on there sharing poetry and stories and just talking, and I chimed in and made friends. There is Jo, Rich, Tina, Linda, Scarlet and Andvari, Kathryn,Mallory and Krista, Mame , Elle, and Kindred and the infinitely wise and wondrous Sassy.
We now also have a closed group on FB (what would we do without FB?), but chat is still open on the website and most of them spend time there still. I poke my head in occasionally. They are an interesting group, and much has happened over the time we’ve known each other. Scarlet and Andvari got together and are now engaged, we watched it happen on-line! Elle and Krista both got married, Krista has had 2 babies and Elle had breast cancer. Linda had a granddaughter and is in LOVE. Mame finally met a man (she REALLY wanted one) worthy of her and that’s an on-going process, Tina had and lost one. Mallory’s beloved mother died, Rich’s son-in-law was tragically killed but his daughter met someone else who filled their hole very nicely. Kindred sparkles like a beacon of rainbows. Jo drinks WAY too much coffee, is the best cheerleader ever and I can beat her at FB Scrabble (I like that). Kathryn is a wonderful artist and has made me, and everyone else, pictures…one is on my shrine (Queen Michele).
And then there is Sassy. Angela, but everyone in her life calls her Sassy. She is an amazing writer and has a blog that I follow religiously. She is editing a novel that she wrote. She dreams, man, I am jealous of her dreams, and she writes them down. She runs. She named the Steeples (Story Peoples = Steeples). She lives in Arkansas with a chef husband in a house she calls the “Jesus Crack House”. I am planning a trip to see my land in Arkansas because….I’ll get to meet Sassy! We talk a lot, online. We email each other, and support has been shared. She sent me some crazy ugly dolls to put into compromising positions and post pictures of, a way to play. She is inspiring. She inspired me to start this blog (a long time ago and it has gone through many secret iterations…now it is slowly opening to the world).My old ancestor table has now become a shrine, a shrine to ME at Sassy’s shrine-building urging. Purged of almost every Tom thing (except some pictures), it is now about ME, my hopes, dreams, future and fabulosity. I told you she’s inspiring! She’s been through a lot in her life, follow her blog and read all about it. BUT it’s who she has become that is so lovely, truly one of the most completely authentic people I have ever “met”. She just turned 40, though she has lived enough to be 100, and she is a wonder.
(Here is the shrine; it changes constantly and will continue to. I LOVE IT!)
Brian himself has become a friend. We talk all the time, Twitter seems to be our preferred mode, though we had a fun skype chat one night. We know a lot about each other and I’m through being kinda star-struck by him. (Sorry!) Now he’s just Brian. He’s got a very cool new project called Tumblecloud that is an interactive story telling/sharing thingie (I’m not very computer savvy!) I am trying to work it. I think we’ll meet one day, it just hasn’t happened yet.
Brian made all of the Steeples their own personal avatars. He’s a great guy like that. Here’s mine:
That’s me and Angel Boy out for an adventure…moving forward, see the arrow? Lucky me!
I have Twitter friends and FB friends who I argue politics, discuss dreams, bitch about kids with….and have never met.
My next and newest group of online friends are from the BFB ( The BFB stands for Booze Free Brigade) a yahoo health group I stumbled upon (literally, as I was most likely drunk) one night when I was actively searching blogs about drinking (it worked for grief, right?). I found a lot of great places to learn what I already knew, and that was that I drank way too much. And as I came to the realization that I didn’t want to do that anymore, I found the BFB, a chat group, and started gaining on-line support, which pushed me into accepting real life help. The first AA meeting I went to I was met by the two founders of the group, both who lived in L.A. Stefanie is still here, Jane has moved up north. On that board I have met many women and a couple men. I have physically met women from there too….Trista and Dayna and Carissa, all of who I see, along with Stefanie. From up north I have met Molly and Leigh and Elizabeth (whose real name is Sarah), and in 2 weeks I will see all of them again along with Jo. The boards greatest cheerleader Lisa,is coming here in 2 weeks also…so she will be an in-person friend too. All of these women are so supportive, as are many others. The nature of that board is that people go in and out…lots of people attempting to get sober, changing their minds. On for a while, gone for good or gone and back. There are a few of us who seem to be staying….all the people I mentioned are active on the board.
There was one man, Mike. In his 70’s, 30 years sober, married to the lovely and patient Susannah. He had an amazing sense of fun and humor, but was a typical man in the way that all the women on the board are pretty typical. He gave tough love. He was not afraid to tell it like it is about drinking, to point out the horrors of alcoholism and really push people toward AA. He also had a wonderful life to show for his sobriety, full of fun and adventure and was a great testament to the fact that not drinking does not mean the end of fun (which many, myself included, believe at the beginning). Mike was also a pussycat, so supportive, so loving and so helpful to all of us. He lived in Albequerque, New Mexico, and I knew I would meet him because my friend Nanner lives there and when I visit her, I’ll see him. I actually now have a plan to visit Nan in September and also go to my friend’s Eve and Charley’s wedding. I was going to sit down and write to Mike, tell him the great news that I would be meeting him for a meeting, when I opened a note on the BFB from his wife, Susannah. Mike died in his sleep last Tuesday, February 28. Heart problems, just died. Broke my heart and the hearts of lots of women online. I cried and cried and am still feeling the void. I never met him, but I knew him, and the loss is palpable.
These are my Cyber-friends. While I haven’t actually, physically met some of these people, I consider them my friends. We have shared a lot, lots of truth and pain and joy and laughter and sadness. We have given and taken direction and suggestions from each other, and schemed to meet. We have sent cards and presents. We have talked of love and loss and hugged each other and made virtual cookies and cried together. It’s a different kind of friend, a different kind of connection,but one just as valid and loving and real. I am grateful for these friends, they have enriched and, in some cases, changed my life.
Such an amazing thing, cyber-space. It opens doors that might never have been opened to us. I’m not a tekkie, I don’t have vast, important projects to do on-line. I just love my peeps, and am so happy to have connected in this way. Who wouldda thought?